SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) If there ever was a game of two halves, this was it.
Syracuse had a 38-24 lead at halftime and held a 41-27 advantage with nine minutes left in the third quarter. But then it all fell apart for the Orange.
Led by a historic performance by quarterback John Wolford, Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) stormed back for a 64-43 win over Syracuse (4-6, 2-4), outscoring the Orange 40-5 in the second half and clinching a bowl berth in the process.
”The defense played lights out in the second half and we obviously put up some points,” Wolford said in a classic understatement. ”When you put all of those things together you’re going to come out with a win.”
That they did.
”Obviously, John (Wolford), the offensive line, (running back) Matt Colburn (237 yards rushing) – it just goes on and on. It was a great win. It really was,” said Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson.
The teams combined for an ACC-record 1,355 yards of total offense – 734 by Wake Forest, a school record, and 621 by Syracuse. Wake’s 64 points were the most ever for a Syracuse opponent in the 37-year history of the Carrier Dome.
”We’re extremely disappointed. We have to do a lot better than we what we did out there today,” said Syracuse coach Dino Babers. ”We have to find a way to get a win on the road (next week against Louisville).”
Syracuse must win its final two games to secure its first bowl berth in four years. The Orange closes its season at home against Boston College.
Wolford passed for three touchdowns and ran for three more, accounting for 499 yards of total offense.
He was 25-of-38 for 363 yards passing and rushed for 136 more, the first 100-plus-yard game rushing in his career. He has accounted for 69 touchdowns in his career, shattering the school record of 65.
Wolford scored on runs of 3, 9, and 29 yards. His 9-yard run closed the deficit to 41-34 Syracuse, a 19-yard strike to Cam Serigne made it 43-40, and his 29-yard run with 11:48 left in the game gave Wake Forest a 47-43 lead to cap the furious rally. Wake Forest went on to score 17 more points to make it a blow out.
”In the second half we were a different team,” said Clawson. ”Our offense was just clicking. At halftime I told our players you could stay down or look at this as an opportunity to be great. It’s one of the best wins we’ve had in the last four years.”
Clawson said his team ”tweaked a few things” at the half, ”then challenged our players to play defense.”
”A lot of the touchdowns we gave up were on missed assignments. We were blowing assignments and not doing our jobs.”
Babers credited Wake Forest with their second-half adjustments, and had high praise for Wolford.
”Their quarterback is a shifty guy, a fifth-year senior,” Babers said. ”He knows all the tricks I thought the game he played was `Wow.”’
The game marked the first time in Babers’ career that his team failed to hold a lead heading into the final quarter (37-1).
Serigne caught touchdown passes of 31, 19 and 6 yards. His 6-yard touchdown gave Wake Forest a 54-43 margin. Colburn got his 237 yards on 31 carries. He scored on a 76-yard burst in the fourth quarter.
Playing without star quarterback Eric Dungey, Syracuse didn’t miss a beat – at least in the first half – with backup Zach Mahoney. Mahoney was 22-of-35 for 297 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first half, but was just 11-of-25 for 87 yards after intermission.
”Eleven 11 for 25 is not good,” Babers said. ”We need to find out if that was wide receiver error or maybe the ball wasn’t going to places where it should’ve been going.”
Ravian Pierce had two touchdown receptions for Syracuse and Steve Ishmael had 14 receptions for 145 yards.
Wake Forest scored on its first three possessions, but then the Syracuse defense stiffened, forcing four consecutive punts before Mike Weaver hit a 41-yard field goal as time ran out in the second quarter to make it 38-24 at halftime.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons can now celebrate a successful season and its offense is in high gear with Wolford leading the way.
Syracuse: This was a demoralizing loss for Syracuse. After building a 38-24 lead at the half, the defense crumbled and now the Orange faces the daunting task of winning two straight to make it into the postseason.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons begin a two-game home stand to close out the season. First up: Saturday against North Carolina State.
Syracuse: The Orange has another key game, Saturday at Louisville. Last season, Lamar Jackson dominated Syracuse last year.
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